1 December, 2021

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Politics: Frozen By Covid-19

By S. I. Keethaponcalan –

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’s candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa convincingly won the presidential election held on November 16, 2019. He polled 52.25 percent votes as opposed to his arch-rival, Sajith Premadasa’s 42 percent votes. Without wasting too much time, the president installed a new government headed by the SLPP, and Mahinda Rajapaksa was appointed Prime Minister. As soon as the presidency was won and the new administration formed, the SLPP’s quest became winning a two-thirds majority in the general election, which was to take place in early 2020.  

On December 4, 2019, Amanda Hodge reported that President Rajapaksa “is widely believed to be seeking a two-thirds majority in parliament…”[1]. The government ministers were frank about the need to win such a majority. G.L.Peiris, Chairman of the SLPP, declared that the government would secure a two-thirds majority in the forthcoming election. He said a two-thirds majority was needed not to enjoy privileges but to serve the public efficiently[2]. Minister Prasanna Ranatunga maintained that “a new government with a two-thirds majority should be elected at the general election. It is only then can a constitutional amendment be made to save the country.”[3] 

Why Do They Need a Two-Thirds Majority? 

The government could achieve many objectives with a two-third majority in parliament. It would assist the government to, for example, consolidate the unitary character of the state. However, the new government does not hide its objective in seeking a two-thirds majority from the Sri Lankan electorate. It wants to do away with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The Amendment was introduced by the previous government, which won the election in 2015 on the promise of good governance (yahapalanaya). 

I believe that three specific elements in the 19th Amendment irk the government: (1) the reduced executive powers of president, (2) independent commissions, and (3) reduced presidential term. 

The 19th Amendment seriously diluted presidential powers. For example, originally, the president had the executive powers to appoint and remove the prime minister and members of the cabinet of ministers. The prime minister and a member of the cabinet of ministers could be removed “by a writing under hand of the President.” Under the new scheme, the president lost that power. Now the prime minister could be removed only if he or she resigns or ceases to be a member of parliament. The 19th Amendment also reestablished the Constitutional Council. With the reestablishment of the Councils, the president could not make major public service appointments without the approval of the CC. The Amendment also reduced the presidential term from six years to five years and limited the time in office to only two terms. Therefore, the 19th Amendment severely dented the power, strength, and prestige of the presidency. Rajapaksas liked none of them. Hence, the desire to repeal the 19th Amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority.

Electoral Reality

Can the SLPP win more than 150 seats in the 225-seat parliament? In October 2019, I predilected that “Gotabaya is more likely to win the presidential election…”[4] One of the assumptions that enabled the prediction was that major political parties in Sri Lanka have permanent vote banks, and they only marginally shift. A possible vote a candidate could poll was calculated based on the existing political configurations at that time. The same political configuration remained after the presidential election, especially within the SLPP led alliance. 

Newly elected presidents in Sri Lanka like to go for the general election almost immediately because euphoria created by the (presidential) election victory has the potential to boost the chances of the president’s party in the parliamentary election. Gotabaya Rajapaksa could not do that because the 19th Amendment prevented him from dissolving the parliament immediately. Therefore, the government could not take advantage of an immediate general election. 

Also, the UNP split into two. Sajith Premadasa formed his own party/alliance called the Samagi Jana Palavegaya (SJP) while the UNP remains and will contest the general election under Ranil Wickremesinghe. The split in the main opposition party also unlikely to fetch too many votes to the SLPP. The UNP votes will break into two.     

Therefore, I assumed that the SLPP led alliance would garner about the same number of votes in the general election as well. Applying those votes to the general election template indicated that the ruling party would get only about 125 votes.

What this means is, had Sri Lanka proceeded with the plans for the general election in April 2020, the SLPP would have won the polls with a comfortable majority, but would have failed to get enough seats (150) to amend the Constitution. In that sense, an April 2020 election would have ended as a disappointment to the government.  

COVID19 Impact

It was against this backdrop, the COVID19 hit Sri Lanka bringing the system along with its politics to a standstill. As expected, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved parliament on March 2, and the fresh election was scheduled for April 25. However, due to the COVID19 pandemic, the general election was postponed indefinitely by the Elections Commission of Sri Lanka. Since the election could not be held on time, there was a call to reconvene parliament, which the president refused. 

Therefore, Sri Lanka remains without an elected national body. As of today, no one knows when the election will be held. The government and the Election Commission expects the other to fix the new date. No political party is campaigning for the election as the prevailing scenario is not conducive for campaigning. Opposition parties adopt a muted attitude in relation to the government response to the COVID19 crisis. Hence, the COVID19 seems to have frozen Sri Lankan politics.        

Now, we know the general election will be held sooner rather than later, most likely sometime in 2020. What would be the impact of COVID19 on the results of the forthcoming general election? It seems the crisis has strengthened the government’s fortunes in the election. In general, natural catastrophes are bad for governments in power. People are dissatisfied with what they endured and react against the incumbent government. This could happen to the SLPP as well. Theoretically, it could win less than 125 seats when the election is conducted. 

However, the reaction from Sri Lanka indicates that many people are satisfied with the way the government, especially President Rajapaksa, has handled the crisis. People tend to compare this government’s performance with the yahapalana government. The comparison or the comparative analysis favors the SLPP government. Even the opposition parties are in praise. For example, Sajith Premadasa pointed out that “the entire state apparatus, led by health authorities and the security forces, have so far been able to keep the number of infections controlled and deaths at a minimum.”[5]

Internationally also it seems to be getting high marks for its COVID19 response. For instance, the GRID Index (Tracking the Global Leadership Response in the COVID19 Crisis) ranked Sri Lanka as one of the top ten countries to deal with the crisis effectively. Moreover, the crisis enabled the government to deliver handouts to voters in the name of crisis relief. The point is that these factors could become handy for the government in the general election. 

Therefore, in the backdrop of the COVID19 crisis, the government is more likely to fare well in the post-COVID19 general election. It seems the government would win more than 125 seats if the election is held in, for example, May 2020. Space has been created to win a two-thirds majority. But, would it win such a majority? No one knows.

[1] Amanda Hodge. Sri Lanka Strongman Gotabaya Rajapaksa out to Tighten Grip. The Australian. December 4, 2019. 

[2] Need Two-Thirds Majority to Repeal 19A: SLPP. Daily Mirror Online. March 2, 2020. 

[3] Parliament to be Dissolved Tomorrow. Daily Mirror Online. March 1, 2020.  

[4] S .I. Keethaponcalan. Gotabaya’s Victory Assure? Colombo Telegraph. October 20, 2019.

[5] President Takes Cautious Route to Restore Normalcy. The Sunday Times. April 19, 2020. 

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Latest comments

  • 6
    2

    Mr. Keetha: Colombo is in a lockdown and frozen until April 22 – so that there will not be protests outside the US and Saudi Embassies . After all CIA and Saudi fund, own and operate the ISIS that claimed the Easter Sunday Carnage last year on April 21 and they do not want people to be able to assemble together and protest outside the US embassy whose diplomats had bomb materials at the JAIC Hilton.

    The US citizen Rajapaksa brothers who rule this miracle of modayas are collaborating with their American masters to keep the Fake Covid 19 pandemic narrative and economically devastating curfew in place until April 22 in Colombo. Why?
    This is to prevent people commemorating the US owned and Saudi funded ISIS vioence and craft the anti-Muslism narrative instead of identifying the real culprits – the CIA and Saudi – that used local youth to stage the attacks on Chinese owned Shangri La and other hotels and the Economy of Sri Lanka as well as Churchers.
    Long live Miracle of Modayas

    • 1
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      Yeah, the Easter Debacle and attack of economy and society was on April 21st 2019. Now the Covid 19 attack on the economy is on going.
      Covid 19 is a fake pandemic invented by the WHO, big Pharma and US deepstate to destroy Asian economies to make US great again but the plan backfired!! United Nations and its agencies should be SHUT DOWN massive waste of money.

      In Sri Lanka the Bottom line is that the intellectually bankrupt and corrupt opposition – UNP, SLFP, TNA, JVP SLMC and various other hangers on are scared of the electorate and elections. Usually the opposition should want an election to topple the govt. but these want to re-convene the Cesspit parliament and get back their lost perks and parliamentary privileges! What a sick joke.

      Let there be elections!

  • 5
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    There was a cartoon in one of Sri Lanka’s dailies today:
    The half-naked citizen wearing a piece of sarong asks the fat politician “Sir, it looks like Sri Lanka is better off without Parliament”?
    The politician answers, with a smile “That’s why we have passed a document called Constitution”. (It means you can never get rid of us, though you like us or not)!
    I spoke to a few Sri Lankans today and all of them said jokingly that Sri Lanka would be better off without Diyawanna’s 225, who waste our money but serve none but themselves.
    Even CT readers sometimes say that we should go back to the era of the British colonial time prior to 1948.
    This is a time to think of it seriously. In stead of a Colonial Governor we elect the President; he will have a State Assembly with less that 75 elected members who are not paid a salary but a per diem for their work. The President runs the country with Government Agents and State Secretaries, with approval of the SA. All Financial allocations and constitutional affairs should be approved by the SA. Run the country on a trial basis for 3 years while fixing the shortcomings in due course! Get the approval of the people at a referendum if everything is OK at the end of the trial period!
    Sri Lankans can thus introduce a new version of democracy to the modern world!

  • 6
    3

    Keetha , Thank You so much. I well remember reading your essay prior to elections, where you had predicted GR chances of coming to power with rational reasoning which convinced me of the outcome. When I voiced my fears here in CT, people called me a Rajapaksa supporter, SLPP supporter—etc—etc none of which helped in changing the dire outcome. Since then I had been closely following your writings. Thanks again and please keep writing.

  • 4
    1

    Keetha

    Hence, the COVID19 seems to have frozen Sri Lankan politics.

    *** How nice . Have you not head in France they found Coronoa in the running water used to clean streets. Because there Democracy has not frozen as it is still flowing but in Sri Lanka Democracy FROZE and Dictatorship arrived like torrential rain like in Cheerapunji. non stop when Gotha was elected.

  • 0
    4

    COVID- it is all a PRC economic war,using a bio tool ! They did not kick out the white man,in December 2019 – they kept them in,so that White Int,picked it up – but the PRC purposely did not give the data – so that the US/EU,would be complacent – and then,the doom would strike.
    The int tapes and intercepts,will be leaked,via the Russians,a few months before the US polls and polls in EU nations. dindooohindoo
    China imports oil and commodities,and all have crashed.Before this disaster,PRC had bought a lot of Gold,in a shift from the US T-Bills.T Bill yields have reduced and Gold has risen, and PRC has 3 Trillion USD of US T bills and Gold.
    But the real crux of the eco-war,is that the supply chain of all the life saving and sustaining goods,are in PRC.There is no nation in the world,which can substitute PRC – let alone the Indian Niggers,or the Slit eyed Vietnamese wimps.These are bogus nations.
    Without a bullet beung fired,at the USA/EU,the PRC has shown the TRUE POWER of the PRC.It is not the Mach 10 Aircraft Carrier,killing land based missile.It is the supply chain of the US and EU life saving and sustaining goods – which is a permanent resident in the PRC.

  • 2
    2

    Keetha,
    I don’t know how far your prediction is going to be right or wrong, you have not explained what impact the Corona will have on the economy, peoples living standard and particularly to the democracy if SLPP get two third majority and if not they don’t get two third majority. You have clearly explained the motive of SLPP. It is not about getting a running parliament, it is about two third majority. Srilanka had a good experience of those presidency which is nothing sort of dictatorship. Dictatorship means dictatorship. What did JRJ did to Democracy? What did Chandrika did to democracy? What did Mahinda Rajapakse did to Democracy? During JRJ period India came. During Chandrika period International Community came in? During Mahinda’s period UNHRC came in? Who else has to come in during Gota’s dictatorship? One thing is certain: Lost freedom, poverty, insurgency, bloodbath, Possibly UN peace keeping force. We go around the cycle.

  • 2
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    With cold logic and impartial analysis of the facts the author presents a lucid article. No one could challenge the rationale’ of his conclusions. It is very rare to find even learned people expressing views devoid of political and other prejudices. Well done Dr. Keethaponkalan.

  • 3
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    One thing is very clear in politics in Sri Lanka ,India ,Pakistan or Bangladesh the majority of the voters are un -comprehensible about the future of their country and look for only immediate prospects and benefits. As such, they are being deceived by all political parties and democracy means nothing.

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